Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has filed two amendments to immigration reform legislation aimed at prohibiting visitors to the U.S. and undocumented immigrants from buying guns. But he said Monday he hasn’t decided whether he’ll push for a floor votes on them as part of the immigration overhaul, fearing that mixing two explosive issues could jeopardize reform.“I’m having conversations with my colleagues, and we’ll make a decision within the next few days,” Blumenthal told TPM in an interview. “You know, I’m hoping to raise this issue and the amendments, but the priority is to pass an immigration reform bill. So I don’t want to put that objective in jeopardy.”
One of Blumenthal’s amendments would prohibit visitors who enter the country through the Visa Waiver Program from buying guns — the same ban facing those who enter on a visitor’s visa. As the senator noted, this group includes shoe bomber Richard Reid and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. The other would require the attorney general to notify the secretary of homeland security when an undocumented immigrant or visitor on a temporary visa tries to buy a gun, and when non-citizens attempt bulk purchases of firearms.
Blumenthal declined to elaborate on his talks with Democratic leaders. “I’m discussing with my colleagues what the consequences will be of offering the amendments,” he said.
The concerns aren’t difficult to suss out. In a Congress that’s deeply antagonistic to even the most popular and minimalist gun safety proposals, Blumenthal’s amendments — were they to become part of the immigration bill — run the risk of alienating conservative senators poised to oppose any curtailment of gun rights.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for instance, a leading Republican supporter of immigration reform, told BusinessWeek that Blumenthal’s amendments were “problematic.”
“We’d open up the flood gates,” Graham told the news outlet. “We need to get immigration done. We’ve had a gun debate. We need an immigration debate.”
A vote on Blumenthal’s proposals has the potential to expose an irony, causing some conservatives, including opponents of a path to citizenship, to side with undocumented immigrants on a matter of public safety in order to protect their pro-gun credentials.
“The purpose is to keep firearms out of the hands of people who are dangerous to themselves or others, and who may be in this country illegally, or who may be rightly prohibited from buying firearms in similar situations.” Blumenthal said. “It’s to reduce gun violence that may result from illegal immigrants or others coming to this country having firearms.”
The Connecticut senator has stepped up his gun control advocacy in the wake of the devastating mass shooting in his home state last December. He may yet push for a vote on his amendments during immigration reform, but he hinted he’s leaning toward putting them off.
“Certainly the majority leader has committed to bring back common sense measures to prohibit gun violence,” he said, “and there may be other and better opportunities to offer them.”